An Empowerment Post for Mother’s Day

A friend recently sent me a link about Dorothy Thompson for my blog. I write often of artists of all colors and talents. Journalists are a particular interest because of their bravery in the face of turmoil. Ms. Thompson is no exception. Her childhood, no doubt, gave her a broader view of the world around her and she was blessed by an expanded education, not afforded many girls in her day. She also supported her younger sibling’s educations, once employed.

Dorothy Celene Thompson (July 9, 1893 – January 30, 1961) was an American journalist and radio broadcaster, who in 1939 was recognized by Time magazine as being equal in influence to Eleanor Roosevelt. She is notable as the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934 and as one of the few women news commentators on radio during the 1930s. She is regarded by some as the “First Lady of American Journalism”.

Her mother died when Dorothy was seven (in April 1901), leaving Peter, a Methodist preacher, to raise his children alone. Peter soon remarried, but Dorothy did not get along with his new wife, Elizabeth Abbott Thompson. In 1908, Peter sent Dorothy to Chicago to live with his two sisters to avoid further conflict. Here, she attended Lewis Institute for two years before transferring to Syracuse University as a junior. At Syracuse, she studied politics and economics and graduated with a degree in 1914. Because she had the opportunity to be educated, unlike many women of the time, Thompson felt that she had a social obligation to fight for women’s suffrage in the United States, which would become the base of her ardent political beliefs. Shortly after graduation, Thompson moved to Buffalo, New York and became involved in the women’s suffrage campaign. She worked there until 1920, the year women won the vote, and when she went abroad to pursue her journalism career.

By the time she had returned to the U.S. in the 1930s Dorothy had become one of the most trusted of American journalists. Her “On the Record” column in the New York Tribune was syndicated and had a readership of more than ten million.She also wrote a long-standing column for the Ladies’ Home Journal which was enormously popular.

At the end of her life, she had faded from view, living in Lisbon, Portugal. However, in recent years one of her articles has surfaced, “Who Goes Nazi?” Drawing on her observations, Ms. Thompson argued that the distinction had nothing to do with “class, race or profession. Nazism had something more innate. “Kindness, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. But by those driven by fear, resentment, insecurity, or self-loathing. Her second husband, the famed Noble writer Sinclair Lewis, had no doubt taken a page from his wife when he penned “It Could Happen Here,” about a fascist dictator who takes over the United States. The Hepburn-Tracy movie, Woman of the Year, as an accomplished international journalist, is another nod to Dorothy.

Dorothy heckling members of the Nazi Party in upper State New York and Sinclair Lewis borrowed pages

It was during her time in pre-Nazi Germany which brought her name to the forefront of the news. The situation in Germany fascinated her, and she spent much of 1931 writing extensively researched, incisive articles about the explosive rise of national socialism in Germany. Later in 1931, the Nazi Party invited Thompson to interview Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine. She expanded the interview, publishing it along with her impressions in book, I Saw Hitler!, which was released before Hitler was appointed German chancellor in 1933.

“The interview was difficult, because one cannot carry on a conversation with Adolf Hitler,” she wrote. “He speaks always as though he were addressing a mass meeting . . . a hysterical note creeps into his voice, which rises sometimes almost to a scream. He gives the impression of a man in a trance.”

Thompson’s searing criticism angered Hitler, who personally ordered her to leave Nazi Germany in 1934. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from the country by the Nazi regime. “As far as I can see, I was really put out of Germany for the crime of blasphemy,” she said upon disembarking in the United States. “My offenses to think that Hitler was just an ordinary man, after all. That is a crime in the reigning cult in Germany, which says Mr. Hitler is a Messiah sent by God to save the German people.”

We all now know how that played out, as in history repeating itself!

Dorothy Thompson was one of America’s most urgent, eloquent voices against Nazism. Her writing and radio broadcasts alerted millions of people to Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews as well as the threat it posed to democracy and international peace. Thompson continued her anti-Nazi work after the United States entered World War II. In December 1942, soon after reports of Nazi Germany’s plan for mass murder first appeared in American newspapers, Thompson organized a public statement opposing Nazism. Signed by fifty prominent German Americans—including academics, newspaper editors, sports figures like Babe Ruth, and Thompson herself—the “Christmas Declaration by Men and Women of German Ancestry” appeared in ten major newspapers.

Sinclair, Michael, Dorothy

I often wonder what these journalists, of our past, would write about today’s world politics. By reading about them, we learn about the struggles that are still being fought. Above are bolded/highlighted statements that reflect the times we are in today. What’s old is “new” again; too many similarities. It is exactly why I feature those of past freedom fighters. I admire everyone who digs for the truths, beyond the headlines, beyond the monkey brains, beyond the fear and loathing. While the world “shelters in place,” it’s important to find the facts and not let “fear” dictate our own needs. We are better than this. Be patient. We’ve come this far!


Dorothy Thompson, In Search of The Fuhrer
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